Last Friday morning, Islamabad’s busy Jinnah Avenue was closed off to motor cars and opened for cyclists only.
Around a hundred young people from the capital city took part in the “Go Green Rally!” organised by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung (HBS) in collaboration with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
The event was part of HBS’s ‘Planet B Campaign’, which was initiated in August this year, given that the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference 2015 is to be held in Paris in December.
The campaign promotes the idea of “There is no planet B — let’s change our policies, not the climate” with the aim to spread awareness at all levels of policy formulation and implementation on climate change.
“I’m very excited to take part in this rally,” said Sara, a student from the National Defense University. “We should have more events like these to raise awareness about climate change. Pakistan is facing floods each year, the situation is so grave, why aren’t our policy makers doing more about it?”
She was lucky to arrive early at the rally and managed to get a bicycle. Since HBS had only arranged for around a 100 bikes, the late-comers had to walk.
They did not mind, however, as they carried little banners with “There is no Planet B” slogans and chanted: “Let’s change our policies, not the climate” as they happily walked along Jinnah Avenue, enjoying the bright sunshine on a cool November morning.
Many of the young people were members of the Pakistan Youth Climate Network, initiated in 2010 by the SDPI. This is a less formal network that comes together for events like the cycling rally and tree plantations to try to raise awareness amongst the youth; it has more than 7,000 members.
Not only the youth, but five serving majors from the Pakistan Army also joined the rally. The participants took photos and videos, and uploaded the event onto their Facebook pages.
According to the HBS, the prime focus of the campaign is to advocate climate justice and sensitive policy-making to reduce the vulnerabilities of people, while engaging youth and other stakeholders.
The “Go Green Rally!” was the first event in this series and it was part of the worldwide “Global Day for Action” against climate change in the run up to the Paris conference.
The cyclists, all wearing fluorescent green jackets with the “There is No Planet B” logo, took a round of the city beginning at the HBS office off Embassy Road; circling around from in front of the parliament, all along Jinnah Avenue to finally turn at the main signal close to the F-8 sector.
The cycling rally was followed by a closing plenary where representatives from the government like Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the head of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) Marvi Memon and Member of National Assembly (MNA) from Islamabad, Asad Umar, were invited to the HBS office premises for lunch with the young participants of the cycling rally.
Since all the large climate marches that were supposed to take place in Paris have now been cancelled due to security issues there, it is even more important now that the informed citizens of all the large cities in the world play their role in highlighting climate change.
“Both Pakistan and the world need to adopt green values,” pointed out Mome Saleem, the programme coordinator for the HBS and one of the organisers of the event.
She explained that 130 organisations around the world were participating in the “Global Action Day” that is calling for people to put more pressure on their political leadership to change their policies and do more to curb carbon emissions that cause global warming.
Marion Regina Mueller, the head of HBS in Pakistan, which has been working in the country for almost 20 years now, said that multilaterism was not leading to a positive outcome; the Paris Protocol (as the agreement to be made in Paris will be called) should call for a global phase out of carbon emissions and phase in of renewable energy.
In her view, a legally binding agreement with adequate finance and a mechanism for loss and damage is possible. Marion noted we need “climate justice”; that those who contributed the most to creating climate crisis should now do more to solve it.
Also read: Is Karachi experiencing climate change?
The other organiser of the event, Shakeel Ramay from the SDPI, explained that development and the environment go hand in hand and it is important to sensitise the youth.
He said that when he approached the government to participate in the event, Ahsan Iqbal, the Federal Minister of Planning, Development & Reform, readily agreed to come and take the message of environment friendly development forward.
Ahsan Iqbal spoke about the dangers of climate change. “Although Pakistan’s contribution to green house gas emissions is negligible, the country is suffering (from climate change) because of the behaviour of developed societies,” he said calling for a “global partnership” to develop new technologies and pointed out that in the Planning Ministry’s Vision 2025 document, “sustainable development is a pillar”.
In his view, Pakistan has already been investing in renewable energy, given the upcoming Dassu Dam, the Diamer Bhasha Dam, the Quaid-i-Azam solar park and all the wind energy projects planned in Sindh.
As for Pakistan’s coal deposits, he said that the government was looking at “super critical technology so that the emissions would meet environmental standards”.
MNA Asad Umar pointed out that although Pakistan was investing in renewables like hydropower and solar and wind energy, the country also needed to work on greater efficiency and introduce mandatory testing on cars.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 29th, 2015